Thursday, October 22, 2009

Musicians speak out against violence and sexism

In the past month, I've been to three musical performances, and at each one, I got to witness performers taking a stand against sexual violence, sexist language, and hate crimes. Allow me to take a moment to publicly commend each artist and band for doing so:

1) On September 18, I saw Zombie Dogs and Slingshot Dakota play at the Glass Door in Brooklyn. I was surprised when drummer Tom Patterson interrupted Slingshot Dakota's set to speak at length about sexual assault within Brooklyn's punk and underground music 'scene'/community. When I say at length, I mean at length. He spoke for at least ten minutes about how important it is to address these issues, not only for individual survivors, but also for the health and well-being of the entire community. I'd never seen anything like it before at a show, and it was kind of amazing. Props to Tom for saying what so many people can't or won't.

2) On October 9 I was lucky enough to see The Gossip at Terminal 5. In the middle of the band's set, there was some kind of skefuffle up in the front, and from where I was standing on the side, I couldn't really see or hear what was going on. Vocalist Beth Ditto interrupted the show in order to take charge of the situation and mediate. After a few minutes of quiet, wherein Beth spoke to some people in the audience, out of nowhere we all heard her say, "Why would you call her a cunt? I wouldn't call you a faggot, I don't know you!"

It seems that there was some friction and shoving between some guys at the show and the girls who were standing behind them. Beth took a few minutes to explain why it is never appropriate to call a woman a cunt, "unless it's like your best friend, and then sometimes it's funny." It became a running theme for the rest of the evening, as Beth reminded the audience every few songs how un-friendly and un-neighborly namecalling is, not to mention hurtful.

3) On October 17 I went to see Death First and Zombie Dogs at ABC No Rio in Manhattan. On the very same day, a march and rally were scheduled in the College Point area of Queens, where Jack Price, an openly gay man, was recently harassed and then brutally beaten.

Death First vocalist Jessy took some time to talk about the march and rally. She briefly explained what had happened, and why the march and rally had been organized. And she told the audience that Death First might not have any songs specifically about gay bashing, but that she thinks it's really important to approach everything she does "with non-violence".

In case it isn't clear, I dig this trend. I like when the musicians I see and listen to are brave enough to speak out against injustice, and I like when the music I listen to has a political and/or social message. Is there really a point to music that doesn't contain a message of some sort?

I didn't experience revelations or epiphanies or anything like that at any of these events. I'm already aware of these issues of sexism, violence, and, gay bashing, and I already denounce the perpetrators of these crimes, as well as the systems that support and perpetuate these crimes and that allow the perpetrators to go unpunished.

But it still struck me what a huge difference musicians can make when they talk about these issues. If these moments were meaningful to me, what could they have meant to other people in the audience? What could it mean for a kid who's been assaulted or harassed, but can't articulate what she or he has experienced? What could it mean for a young person who wants to talk about these problems, doesn't know how or where to start?

As Tom Patterson of Slingshot Dakota said, the only way to deal with these problems is to talk about them and keep talking about them. If musicians are able to start these conversations and help to keep them going, well, that could only be a good thing for those of us who are struggling every day against violence, sexism, and other types of oppression and discrimination.


JMP said...

Slingshot Dakota used to play in NP sometimes but I don't think I ever got to see them.

Star Beat Music said...

Wish I could've been at those shows. But yeah, it's great these musicians are speaking out against violence and sexism. I saw Slingshot Dakota when they played the Glass Door in August. I wrote a similar review:
"Drummer Tom was quite outspoken about rape and domestic violence, saying how you should always make sure sex is consensual and even in the punk rock community we need to be aware of what’s going on. Before “Michael Jordan Saved My Life” he also spoke about friends and how you should appreciate them and tell them you love them and give them support in their darkest times. This was incredible to me. How a band would speak out on these topics."

Otep Shamaya of OTEP also agrees that music should have a message. She's been an artist I've admired since about 2003. Live she's talked about such topics as war, rape, and various societal issues and standing out for what’s right and being outspoken. Her lyrics, poems, blog, and activism are quite impressive and inspiring. It’s only recently this year that I’ve seen other musicians speak out about issues like this. It’s a good thing.